Chinese Jewelry Designers Incorporate Ethnic Minority Accents

    Will Western-influenced jewelry design continue to dominate in China, or will home-grown designers attract jewelry lovers with distinctive Chinese styles in coming years?
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Fashion

    Up-And-Coming Artisans Like "Heizi" Bring Together Traditional Ethnic Materials And Modern Designs#

    Jewelry is certainly big business in China, with the country's expanding middle class helping to push gold and silver sales 16% in the first three quarters of 2009 alone, and China surpassing Japan last year to become the world's second-largest diamond market. However, as China's jewelry and accessory buyers start to set their own trends, rather than following consumers in more established markets, the question remains: will Western-influenced jewelry design continue to dominate in China, or will home-grown designers attract jewelry lovers with distinctive Chinese styles in coming years?

    Today, Shanghai Daily looks at one Chinese designer who has turned away not only from Western design, but from mainstream Chinese design as well, turning to China's 55 ethnic minority groups for inspiration. After combing the countryside (and even looking abroad) to find and learn from folk artisans, Shanghai-based designer Heizi ("Black Guy") began to create one- or two-of-a-kind jewelry designs, which he constructs from found materials collected on his travels.

    From Shanghai Daily:

    Hei Zi, his nickname and brand, cuts an unusual figure with a dash of ethnic fashion and modern mix-and-match. He is often mistaken for one of China's ethnic minorities because of his dark skin and chiseled features.

    He loves it when people get it wrong - he's Han from northeast China - but he steeps himself in minority culture, stays with villagers, shares their food and buys their old clothes.

    He also picks through cast-offs and spots interesting design items, some still being worn, some in the dustbin.

    Many ornaments feature bits of antique beads and metal, bright ribbons, bone, horn and big tassels. All his materials are recombined in special ways, many conveying a message.

    His works are sold only in Charm Cafe and No. 7 Cafe at Hangzhou, China has plenty of designers and manufacturers of ethnic products. Hei Zi's work is distinctive as materials are carefully chosen - they speak to him. They are limited and each piece is special. He only makes one to three pieces a day.

    In his travels he does visit markets for some basics like beads, metal and leather. But his most precious materials are those he encounters along the way, often by chance.

    "The materials speak. When I see them, I know what I want," he says. "I don't go traveling for shopping."


    He uses his ornaments to expresses his insights into the human experience. For example, he combines different sizes of jades in one pendant to show conflicts among people.

    "I recombine the materials I collect and give them style," he says. "The main idea is to express my feelings in the process of obtaining materials and turning them into ornaments.

    "My works are distinctive because I also knit my affection and sensations into them.

    "Therefore, people with life stories are ideal to wear my works as they can handle and enrich their meaning."

    His customers are from China and abroad. Yang Liping, one of China's best-known dancers, frequently wears his works.

    Hei Zi himself wears at least a dash of ethnic fashion every day, frequently mixing and matching. Super baggy black pants go with red canvas shoes. Luxury hand-made eye wear from Japan is worn with a cheap flax scarf and two trademark silver earrings.

    When they see him, most people do a double-take.

    While ethnic-influenced fashion and jewelry might remain very much a niche market in luxury-obsessed China, in China's increasingly picky and sophisticated first-tier cities like Shanghai, it is highly probable that younger or more experimental fashion lovers might become more interested in styles that call back to China's distant countryside.

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